March 25, 2017

Dearest Sam,

The weather's been pretty funny this past year, don't you think? There is a humor to chaos, perhaps because chaos threatens us with meaninglessness, and we must laugh in the face of meaninglessness. What else is there, except weeping and beating our chests and succumbing to the vacuum? Optimism is surely the first step toward order, and true order must be emergent, self-organizing, self-maintaining. That's why I don't trust fascists, you know? Their sort of order is entirely too grim to be authentic. It feels forced, against human nature and against nature, arbitrary and cruel. Order should inspire delight, a profound wonder at the inconceivability of things happening just so, where coincidence becomes indistinguishable from fate.


You know what I think about sometimes? How, when it is quiet, a noise is a signal. Say it is a click. It's a signal that something has happened. If you repeat the click then maybe it communicates that something is happening more than once. If you vary the timing between clicks, or the volume or the tone of the click, then you can communicate even more meaning that way. Maybe you invent morse code. Maybe you can modulate the clicks so they sound like voices, and you've got yourself a phone. But if you keep on increasing the amount of noise, eventually the airwave is so densely packed with information that it all becomes background noise. Then, when there comes a silence, the silence is a signal.

We can do this on paper, too. Say you start with white canvas and you draw something on it in black paint, a face. Then you draw something else, say a tree. And you keep drawing more and more things. The canvas carries more and more information until it becomes a messy tangle of black lines and shapes, and eventually you can't tell one thing from another. But if you keep drawing, the black parts of the canvas becomes increasingly dense until you find yourself with a black canvas with increasing probability, at which point you can start drawing in white paint.

What do you call this phenomenon? How would one describe this mathematically? I've been thinking about this in the shower.

Of course, I no longer have the luxury of thinking of such things all day, only in the shower. I am diligently looking for a job, trying to play catch up with all the years I'd neglected to fashion myself into an employable individual. In fact, some part of me regrets how I seem to have spent two whole years musing about such dreamy and distant things—paradoxes, chaos and order, complexity, the structure of time—and in such vague and desultory ways as to have formulated virtually none of it in writing, and far less with any mathematical rigor.

Most of me, though, believes that it was worthwhile, that I am destined for greater things than employability, that these musings will coalesce some day into a concrete line of reasoning, and come to fruition; that perhaps it has already begun to fruit in the metaphorical power it lends to my conception of my self and of my universe. But you know how I am inclined to grandiosity, as do I, so I am willing to wait and see and not yet declare it a rousing success. But in any case, I am glad to discover myself mostly free of major regrets at this point in my life.

It is funny that Fenimore, in the intervening years since I introduced him to programming, has become possessed by the dream of becoming a software engineer. He's learned all the jargon, uses the latest languages and frameworks, is full of excitement about the field, whereas I who started in computer science have gravitated more and more toward his field: the mythology of things, the intersected manifold of mathematics and philosophy, discussions of God. But in any case, we are applying to the same sort of jobs, and the difference between our portfolios is stark. Admittedly I must admit I feel a twinge of jealously. This was supposed to be my thing, you know? But I think it is probably more insecurity than jealousy. After all, what have I built in all these years since we left school except an elaborate temple to the ethereal and the unknown inside my own mind?

I think it'd be better to materialize my thinking process by making things, by working them out in the physical world, the same way I materialize memories by attaching them to objects. Externalize my self a little, you know? I feel like I would have so much more to show for my effort if I'd only worked out some of my thinking into words or objects instead of hand gestures in the air or muttered words that no one hears. It is easy to go insane when you have nothing to show for your effort or your pain. Not to say that writing it all down would prevent me from going insane anyway, but it's probably more worthwhile to lose your mind if you're doing good work. In any case, what's the point of hoarding one's sanity? What's the point of dying sane? If I were a tree, I wouldn't want to grow straight up, towering over the land. I would want to die a gnarled tree, with many places to sit, to climb, to sleep, to nest (for the birds).

Speaking of memories, I was in Taiwan for the lunar new year this past February. I stayed in my tiny wood-paneled room now housing most of the objects which hold meaning to me, my souvenirs, trinkets, knick-knacks. Matter touched by memory. Bottles of star sand, boxes of coral, driftwood, interesting rocks, letters, toys, photos, so on and so on. I took the time to smell every one my books. They smell like themselves still. It made me realize of how much of myself I was forced to leave behind when I moved back stateside, why I was so vulnerable and so lost. In retrospect, it was really rough removing from Montreal to Taipei, then to Hualien for the service, then to DC without a school or job to go to. I think the instability and uncertainty of everything traumatized me sort of, made me afraid to live and think in the material world. I had to make sure this time in Taiwan to reminisce some of the memories back to life again, to stockpile enough of them in my mind to keep a fire going in the hearth of the soul, so that I will not forget myself.

Here is a new memory: I was in Atlanta two weeks ago, spending some time with a friend to take his mind off of his failing marriage. While he was at work I went to the aquarium, as you'd expect. It was gigantic, the size of a mall. It sat across a field from a museum called The World of Coca Cola. Why would anyone spend $17 to walk around a gigantic advertisement for Coca Cola? But the line was longer than the aquarium's. Rumor has it you can try thirty different flavors of Coke inside, but apparently there are good reasons that only vanilla and cherry made it out.

A cartoon penguin waved from a banner hanging outside the aquarium. "No. 1 in the U.S.," the penguin exclaimed in giant blue letters. If we are being generous it was probably, at best, No. 5 that I've been to. Every exhibit was corporate sponsored. The river exhibit was by Southern Company, a regional hydroelectric corporation. The sea lion theater was by Sun Trust, and the dolphin theater, AT&T. The Ocean Voyager exhibit that contained the famed whale sharks was underscored by the caption "Proudly Built by Home Depot." There was virtually no real information to be found anywhere, no whiff of a hint of any notion to teach environmental conservation, not even the plastic placards that ordinarily adorn the tanks with the species' Latin names.

But the four whale sharks were tremendous, like the contemplation of life somehow suspended weightlessly above one's head. I stood before the gigantic acrylic wall and for a moment forgot my grievances against the aquarium, forgot my grievances against myself. I even might have begrudged Home Depot did a good job building the tank. A manta ray glided gracefully past, scattering a skittish school of fish. A green sea turtle rested between two reefs. Then a whale shark swam toward the window, with immense and lackadaisical power, and twisted its massive body as it neared, soaring up and over me. It was worth all of the other nonsense just to see that, to sit in front of it and forget about everything for a while.


Michael

7:08PM